Enter on a warm, pleasant evening and you'll be greeted by an empty room. It's not that VERBENA restaurant has lost its dedicated following of well-heeled regulars eager to partake of Diane Forley's and Michael Otsuka's thoroughly modern cuisine. Rather, you'll find everyone out back, delighting in the newly redone garden and the tranquillity therein. Underneath the pale, moon-colored tent, brightly hued geraniums and variegated ivy cascade from hanging pots, adding a splash of color to the city at dusk. Fragrant herbs line the garden's border—sage, thyme, rosemary, and of course, lemon verbena.
If those coveted spots beneath the tent are occupied, opt to sit at a cocktail table on the side, apéritif in hand, until one becomes available. It's well worth the wait. 54 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003; 212-260-5454.
— Melissa Clark
I thought we'd never see another modest, felicitous Italian restaurant. But at Sandro's, chef-owner Sandro Fioriti produces Roman-style and pan-Italian specialties with just enough spin to entice both serious eater and trendier diner. For the latter he has thin spaghettini in a lemon-olive sauce that I unexpectedly loved. Still, I would more often follow appetizers of crisp, sunflowerlike Roman-Jewish artichokes or the perfect fried calamari with a half order of wide, raggedy pappardelle tossed into wild mushrooms, the fettuccine with Bolognese meat sauce, any pasta with briny sea urchins, or, when it's a special, my beloved linguine with white clam sauce.
Such richness begs for simple main courses in the typical Italian way: the crisply fried, butterflied cornish hen, the Milanese veal cutlet with tomato and arugula salad, or a whole grilled fish, boned at the table and sprinkled with lemon juice and olive oil. To any of these, add perfect broccoli rabe tinged with garlic and hot red pepper flakes. The espresso ice (granita di caffè) with whipped cream or other sorbets are all I can manage here, finished off with a properly made espresso. $70. 200 Ninth Ave., New York, NY 10011; 212-633-8033.
— Mimi Sheraton
Union Sq. Spa
The Pueblo Indian name CARAPAN translates as "a beautiful place of tranquility," which certainly seems apt for this exceptional spa off Union Square.
Narrow hallways end in an alcove or treatment room, emphasizing Carapan's belief that tranquility results from privacy and solitude. Staggered appointments, private shower rooms, and individual sauna sessions reinforce this philosophy. Since the spa doesn't do manicures, waxing, or traditional facials, it's particularly popular among men, who make up some 40 percent of the clientele. $95-$235. 5 West 16th St., New York, NY 10011; 212-633-6220; www.carapan.com.
— Lauren B. Weisberger
Just when we thought we'd sampled everything the Italian kitchen has to offer, along comes Cesare Casella to prove, delectably, that we're wrong. This he does at Beppe, a smartly rustic if noisy and hectic Tuscan newcomer with brick-and-apricot walls, stunning photographs of food tradesmen, and a friendly, if unpolished, staff.
Casella cooks up everything from savory appetizers such as the grilled Tuscan bread mounded with black cabbage and quail eggs to unusual pastas like testaroli (wedges of crópe tossed with wild mushrooms and the nettlelike green, nepitella) to Italian soul food (lamb pot pie with artichokes). A lighter, impeccably roasted whole fish might allow you to accommodate such wonderful desserts as ice cream sandwiches on toasted panettone-like buccellati. $100. 45 East 22nd St., New York, NY 10010; 212-982-8422.
Blue Water Grill Jazz
Skip the splendid seafood upstairs just this once—and head straight to the Blue Water Grill's basement lounge. The live nightly jazz and phenomenal people-watching make it perfect for a nightcap after, say, dinner in the neighborhood. 31 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003; 212-675-9500.
Until the advent of this local Olives on Union Square, I was not particularly a fan of chef Todd English's cookery, having been disappointed in the Boston original. Magically, this soaring, wood-paneled dining room, designed by David Rockwell in the latest W hotel, won me, as it apparently has a coterie of young lounge-flies. The dining room is generally noisy, but it also has a professional staff delivering herbaceous, lusty "interpretive Mediterranean" food.
Whether cooked in the huge wood-fired hearth, in sauté or saucepans, or not cooked at all, most of the food has a richly burnished flavor. That is as true of the tuna tartare, the grilled squid and octopus, and the tart with goat cheese, onions, and anchovies as of a crunchy Southwest-spiced soft-shell crab or a salad of shredded raw artichoke on a creamy risotto cake, scented with black truffle.
Then to the difficult choice of grilled Dover sole with "naked" chanterelle ravioli versus the garlicky spit-roasted chicken and, especially, the roasted pheasant breast wrapped in applewood smoked bacon. To say nothing of the monumental osso bucco with broccoli rabe and gorgonzola agnolotti. All of which has left me incapable of dessert so far, but stay tuned. $115. 201 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10010; 212-353-8345.
Carpets, Carefully Selected
Put on blinders, walk directly from the door to the elevators on your right, and go immediately to the sixth floor. That's the only way to appreciate the rugs at ABC CARPET & HOME without being distracted by all the other tempting merchandise.
A family-owned-and-operated business since 1897, ABC has perhaps the largest, finest selection of handmade Oriental rugs in the country (incuding the Indian "Rajput" 100 percent wool carpet, $6,000). In the last several years, ABC has also initiated its own production in China, Nepal, Pakistan, and India, resulting in carpets with more contemporary colors without sacrificing old-world quality and workmanship.
Equally exciting is ABC's new stash of outstanding Persian carpets. When the United States embargo on Iran was recently lifted, the principals of ABC's Oriental Carpet Division were among the first to travel there, purchasing a large quantity of rugs. The knowledgeable and friendly staff (most with design backgrounds) will send you home with a work of art. 888 Broadway, New York, NY 10003; 212-674-1144; www.abchome.com.
— M.L. Latiolais
When Jeffrey Kalinsky of Atlanta first set up shop in an industrial space rising from the bloodstained cobblestones of Manhattan's Meatpacking District, uptowners were skeptical. But JEFFREY quickly became an essential destination for the fashion-obsessed; for proof, note the limos idling outside.
Jeffrey is stocked with women's (and men's) clothes by designers Yves Saint Laurent, Ann Demeulemeester, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Dries van Noten, Veronique Branquinho, Michael Kors, and many others, all selected with Kalinsky's unerring eye. Looking for perfection? Look no farther than a display of Jil Sanders' autumn collection, especially the slim-fitting cashmere three-quarter-length coat ($1,250) and pinstripe trousers ($440).
Jeffrey combines all the charm of a small, word-of-mouth boutique with the graciousness of a grand old department store (note the comfortable sofa and sleek, well-appointed restrooms). It offers something to suit every imaginable style, from the classic to the strikingly avant-garde, the subtle to the glossy. There must be some wickedly subliminal marketing going on, because it's nigh impossible to leave empty-handed. Forewarned is forearmed. 449 West 14th St., New York, NY 10014; 212-206-1272.
— Julia Szabo
Since British fragrance whiz JO MALONE opened a skincare clinic in London, she's launched boutiques on Sloane Street and at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Now Malone has the eponymous Manhattan flagship in the Flatiron Building.
Her specially designed aerome machine, or computerized scent booth, emits a spritz of signature fragrances such as the lime-basil-mandarin ($45-$75). Sample the amber-and-lavender lotion ($40-$60) at the hand-and-arm massage bar, and don't leave without the gorgeous scented candles ($65), a perfect hostess gift. 949 Broadway, New York, NY 10010; 212-673-2220; www.jomalone.co.uk.
— Shane Mitchell
THE INN AT IRVING PLACE's Madame Olenska Suite boasts a vintage Royal typewriter, silk divans perfect for swooning, an antique brass bed, and a glass-enclosed window seat overlooking the street. The suite is one of 12 in the two 19th-century townhouses that make up this secret hotel (marked by a number outside, not a sign), where pretending to be Edith Wharton or Washington Irving, two area residents of the period, comes easy. Don't bypass Lady Mendl's, site of an especially atmospheric afternoon tea. Our only quibble: The afternoon managers can be on the brusque side. Rooms, $295-$495 (Madame Olenska Suite). 56 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003; 800-525-4800, 212-533-4600; www.innatirving.com.
— Laurie Werner
Wines From Italy
Cross chef Mario Batali with restaurateur Joe Bastianich and former sommelier Sergio Esposito and you get ITALIAN WINE MERCHANTS, a Roman-style enoteca with many rare Italian bottles curing in the back room.
With its antique tables and Persian rugs, this store is quite the wine salon, and an extraordinary source of important wine in new or older vintages. Perhaps a wine from the last traditionalist in Barolo? Some of the latest, most coveted Sicilians? Just ask. 108 East 16th St., New York, NY 10003; 212-473-2323; www.italianwinemerchant.com.
— Alice Feiring
Fleur De Sel
What a relief this pristine, intimate charmer is! In an era of overwrought design, the understated Fleur de Sel is discreetly tucked away in the Flatiron District. Rose brick and white walls, beautiful flowers, benign lighting, bearable noise level, and an attentive staff would be almost enough to make me love it.
Fortunately, there are also the delicately aromatic, French-informed creations of chef-proprietaire Cyril Renaud, a veteran of La Caravelle and Bouley. Unexpected but harmonious combinations include lobster salad glossed with a vanilla and lemon-grass vinaigrette and seared foie gras with an exotic purée of rosewater-scented dried fruits. Licoricey fennel and black pepper enliven pan-seared lamb loin, a truffle sauce adds elegance to wonderfully moist squab, and the crisp seared poussin is enriched with a foie gras-and-Armagnac sauce. Save room for the chocolate tart soufflé or the caramelized apple crópe, with its refreshing dab of Devonshire cream. Dinner, $125; lunch, $60. 5 East 20th St., New York, NY 10003; 212-460-9100.
A one-of-a-kind, empassioned restaurateur, DANNY MEYER has a unique perspective on the American appetite. He has, over 16 years, created some of New York's most celebrated establishments: unpretentious, highly ambitious, even challenging (Indian-Classical French-American fusion cuisine at Tabla, for instance), which fill up nightly (plan well in advance to make reservations). Union Square Cafe (21 East 16th St., New York, NY 10003; 212-243-4020), Gramercy Tavern (42 East 20th St., New York, NY 10003; 212-477-0777), Tabla (11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010; 212-889-0667), and Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010; 212-889-0905).
Let's say you are mad for De Sica and Fellini, revere Anna Magnani and Sofia Loren, and think 20th-century Italian is the apotheosis of design. Then you will want to move into FRED SILBERMAN's outstanding shop at the eastern edge of Chelsea. In business for more than 35 years (with a faithful clientele), Mr. Silberman and his partner, Tom Stewart, present an exceptional collection of Italian furniture and lighting from 1920 to 1960.
Both gentlemen are pleased to discuss the history of nearly any piece on the floor. But what they are both renowned and revered for is their collection of Fontana Arté lighting, mirrors, and furnishings, such as a 1950 olive-wood-and-crystal container ($475). The partners are Fontana Arté's largest dealers in the U.S. and a virtual catalogue raisonné of its signature styles. You'll find marvelous pieces by Gio Ponti, and on one recent visit there was a Futurismo table lamp from Venini that would have been brilliant in any setting. 36 West 25th St., New York, NY 10010; 212-924-6330.
What is an artistic French chef like Richard Farnabe—formerly of Montrachet and Jean-Georges—doing in a place like this, in the middle of the Meatpacking District? That's what I wondered about Lotus, a three-story late-night club with sexy lounges, a disco, and a line of trendy hopefuls waiting behind a velvet rope. (Fortunately, diners with reservations walk right in.)
But after a few courses in this high-flown dining room with its glowing woods and red lacquer, I recognized a serious restaurant. Convincing starters included the plateau of foie gras variations; the Provençale frogs' legs alongside a slim goblet of translucent cucumber essence; polka dots of three meat carpaccios; and the comforting "risotto," cauliflower and broccoli finely chopped into ricelike grains. Black Alaskan cod on jicama relish is temptingly paired with Maine cod on brandade; crushed sesame seeds add flavor to the rare-roasted rack of lamb. I am still deliberating over the beef tenderloin sauced with bitter chocolate, but I have no qualms about the chocolate-hazelnut pyramid or tuile cannelloni filled with crème brûlée ice cream. $125. 409 West 14th St., New York, NY 10014; 212-243-4420.
Rare among comedy clubs is the GOTHAM COMEDY CLUB's uncrowded smoke-free space—and more important, the comedians are actually funny.
Wali Collins has inspired a cult following in New York; Lewis Black, Robert Klein, and Ray Romano have loyal audiences; even Jerry Seinfeld drops in frequently and unannounced. Cover charge range, $10-$15, with a two-drink minimum. 34 West 22nd St., New York, NY 10010; 212-367-9000, www.gothamcomedyclub.com.
The best news in years for lovers of Indian food is Tamarind, the soigné newcomer with food created by Raji Jallepalli-Reiss, of Raji's, a much-celebrated Memphis restaurant. Just as the subdued, modern white setting is unmistakably Indian, with its handsomely displayed wrought iron, brilliant textiles, sculptural wooden cow clappers and coppery bells, so the Indian origins of all dishes reverberate through stylish presentations.
Seating is comfortable and glowing light illuminates the colors and textures of the spice-laden fare: appetizers such as crisply fried spinach leaves, light chickpea-flour patties with the sweet-sour tamarind sauce, or the fiery chili-masala-enhanced shrimp balchau. Overindulge in those and you'll miss out on the delectable likes of tandoori-roasted quail, coconut-sauced shrimp moiley, incendiary lamb vindaloo, and saffron-spiced tandoori chicken (noorani kebab). Skip the musty-tasting leg of lamb, but add unctuous, spiced okra, kofta-cheese-stuffed lotus-root dumplings (nargisi), restorative lemon rice. And don't forget one of the great breads: rosemary-dusted naan or the greaselessly fried wholewheat balloon, puri. Even here Indian desserts are too sweet for me, exceptions being the throat-cooling ice creams. $90. 41-43 East 22nd St., New York, NY 10010; 212-674-7400.
Diane Forley of Verbena restaurant has opened the diminutive (15 seats) BAR DEMI around the corner. Select a bottle or glass and then three hors d'oeuvres-sized dishes, which have been paired to the particular wine you've ordered and which arrive on a tiered platter. Perfect for before or after a downtown Off-Broadway show. Three-course tasting, $40 for two. 125H East 17th St., New York, NY 10003; 212-260-5454; www.verbenarestaurant.com.
A gleaming blue-and-white fast-foodery, F&B offers high-style European street snacks—most especially varied hotdogs. Go straight for the Great Dane (slender pink frank with remoulade, crisp onions, cucumbers) or try the Swedish meatballs. Skip the mealy bratwurst. $5-$8. 269 West 23rd St., New York, NY 10011; 646-486-4441.
A European-Style Spa
To New Yorkers steeped in New Age chakra-clearing, the airy seven-room BRIGITTE MANSFIELD EUROPEAN SPA, overlooking Union Square, reminds us that classic face and body care still has its merits. You only need look at the owner, former model Brigitte Mansfield (who spent summers at Baden-Baden), to toss out the prayer wheel and resume Dr. Kneipp flower remedies. The spa offers facials, massage, waxing, nail care, and makeup application.
Ask Connie Sandul to apply the Super Charge NYC facial ($140), which consists of an oxygen peel for deep cleaning topped with an application of Reza moisturizing caviar cream. Or relieve urban distress with the Swedish aromassage ($110-$150), which uses organic Carole Franck essential oils from Paris. 37 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003; 212-366-0706; www.mansfieldspa.com.
Member of Fine Dining.